Modesty and embarrassment are as foreign to Red Bastard as a fitness trainer. The bulbous, belligerent red monster is the creation of New York-based actor-writer-director Eric Davis. Already lauded as one of the premier clowns of our time, Davis has received new acclaim as Red Bastard.
It's led him to some unexpected places, too. At a show in Montreal, Davis found his hand in an audience member's pants, wrapped around his testicles. In Slovenia, he had a reticent woman remove her underwear and then climbed under her dress.
"He's kind of the id expressed," says Davis from New York. "He comes from this collective unconscious that tosses around in our heads. He exists in all of us as we're going to sleep, poking at the things we're nervous about. He runs the generator for our dreams."
Red Bastard is Davis' take on the bouffon---a theatre term coined in the 1960s by mime, actor and teacher Jacques Lecoq. While clowns aim for the audience to laugh at them, the bouffon targets the audience.
"It really is about my pleasure and who I'm attracted to. You can say it how you want, but it's like 'Who do I want to fuck?'...It's very in the body," he says. "It wants to eat and consume. And not just food---ideas, people and energy."
Davis found the shape of his bouffon quickly. Taking the heaviness of a butcher he played in college, he designed his "body." It turned out to be a universally appealing shape, noted for its similarities to ancient fertility figures. "I don't think he's really an earthly thing...In the last year/year-and-a-half, I started calling it a comedy monster. That's a good description of what it is."
Co-written with Sue Morrison of the Institute of Canadian Clowning in Toronto, Red Bastard was at first a character to develop ideas around. Now, the show is about interaction with the audience. Davis embraces the monstrous parts of Red Bastard and relishes deviating from the scripted text. "There are themes within it, but it's not like watching Bill Maher talk about American politics. It's becoming more about the social experience about being in the room with this thing."
Davis struggled to figure out what this show was about. Even now, he stumbles and stops mid-sentence trying to find the right words. This search for self is part of what makes Red Bastard---as shocking as he can be---so appealing. "It's a craft of knowing yourself so well...I'm thinking, and learning, as time goes on, about who I am as a performer and who I thought that I was supposed to be or wanted to be."
To better understand himself, Red Bastard treats the audience as his students. Conversing with them, he finds out their dreams and goals, determines their social mores and gets you to re-examine them---all in a party atmosphere. "Some people feel threatened. Some are delicious, lovely and delightful. Some are sexual...It's a charge for people to see who they are."
Manipulation is the other key to Red Bastard's success. His tension, rhythm, parody and constant caressing and gesturing of his body pulls the audience in various directions. "I have a strong sense of where the audience is. It's not my thing to take an audience beyond where they're willing to go. I'm not going to psychologically damage my audience members, but I'm willing to walk to the edge of their comfortability."